With JetBlue’s announcement that effective January 8 the Queens, New York-based carrier will open up all seats for sale on its aircraft, guaranteed inflight social distancing appeared to be going away. But not quite! In a surprise move, Delta Air Lines has extended its commitment to blocking middle seats through the entire winter. Delta customers can now plan to escape the winter blues knowing that middle seats on larger aircraft (select seats on regional jets) will remain blocked through at least March 30.
Delta’s move is great news for potential travelers who may be considering an escape from the snow and cold, knowing that Delta, which operates a huge hub at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, continues to put their peace of mind and personal safety at the top of its list of priorities.
JetBlue joins Southwest Airlines in doing away with the blocking of middle seats, and other seats on smaller aircraft. Southwest ends its empty middle seat commitment on November 30. JetBlue is incrementally increasing its potential load factor by allowing up to 70 percent of seats to be sold through December 1. From December 2 through January 7, an 85 percent load factor is the limit. After that it’s ‘fill ‘er up’ time!
Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines are now the only remaining carriers to offer blocked middle seats on flights after November, but Alaska’s commitment as of today is only through January 6. The remaining U.S. airlines are already selling as many seats on their flights as possible, though the usually sluggish fall travel season with the exception of Thanksgiving week, combined with the dramatic resurgence of COVID-19 across the country has kept most load factors well below 50 percent.
Nearly all airlines are bleeding millions of dollars each and every day by flying their flights with few customers. The hope is for the winter travel season to encourage enough people to go on vacation, pandemic or not, and for perhaps a slow increase in business travel starting in the new year. In spite of a recent report from the T. H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University that the risk of contracting COVID-19 on board a flight “is extremely low”, most people remain grounded for the foreseeable future. Airlines are touting that the hospital-grade air filter systems in today’s modern aircraft make for very safe in-flight air conditions. In fact, the Chan report and another from the U.S. Defense Department indicates that air travel is safer than shopping at your neighborhood grocery store.
American Airlines ceased blocking middle seats way back on July 1, and United Airlines never offered guaranteed reductions in inflight capacity.